19th Century Judicial Precedents Regarding Domestic Discipline

In this third article in our series on domestic discipline, we will be looking at a few 19th century judicial decisions on the lawfulness of husbands practicing domestic discipline toward their wives.  We will start with two cases which upheld the right of a husband to practice corporal chastisement on his wife and then move to a decision which overturned these precedents.  

1834 – Calvin Bradley vs The State of Mississippi

In this case of a husband being charged with battery against his wife the Supreme Court of Mississippi referenced the ancient common law to affirm the right of “domestic discipline” by husbands:

“It is true, according to the old law, the husband might give his wife moderate correction, because he is answerable for her misbehaviour; hence it was thought reasonable, to intrust him, with a power, necessary to restrain the indiscretions of one, for whose conduct he was to be made responsible

I believe it was a case before Mr. Justice Raymond, when the same doctrine was recognised, with proper limitations and restrictions, well suited to the condition and feelings of those, who might think proper to use a whip or rattan, no bigger than my thumb, in order to inforce the salutary restraints of domestic discipline.

Family broils and dissentions cannot be investigated before the tribunals of the country… let the husband be permitted to exercise the right of moderate chastisement… without being subjected to vexatious prosecutions, resulting in the mutual discredit and shame of all parties concerned. Judgment affirmed.”

In the case of Calvin Bradley vs The State, the court affirmed what it called “the ancient common law” right of a husband to use “moderate chastisement” with his wife referring to this practice as “domestic discipline”.    It also respected the limits of civil government interfering in the affairs of the family and stated husbands should not be subjected to prosecutions for exercising their right to domestic discipline as long as they did so in moderation.

1864 – State Of North Carolina vs Jesse Black

In this case the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled as follows:

“A husband is responsible for the acts of his wife, and he is required to govern his household, and for that purpose the law permits him to use towards his wife such a degree of force as is necessary to control an unruly temper and make her behave herself; and unless some permanent injury be inflicted, or there be an excess of violence, or such a degree of cruelty as shows that it is inflicted to gratify his own bad passions, the law will not invade the domestic forum or go behind the curtain.”

As in previous cases, the court affirmed that the husband’s right to chastise his wife flows from his responsibility to govern all in his household and his wife is part of his household.   The court affirmed that it is improper for the civil government to “invade the domestic forum”. 

In this decision, the court did recognize limits on the husband’s power to use corporal punishment to chastise his wife.  They said that a husband’s chastisement of his wife should not cause any “permanent injury” or be excessively violent and that he should not discipline his wife for his own sadistic pleasure.  The court’s view in this case aligns with the Scriptural command to husbands in Ephesians 5:28-29 that they are to care for and protect their wife’s bodies as they would their own.  

1871 – The Year American Courts Invaded the Domestic Forum

It was in 1871, that a state court did what others had warned against decades earlier.  The court invaded the domestic forum, the sphere of authority given to men as the heads of their households.  It not only overturned decades of American court precedent, but invalidated ancient common law rights of husbands upon which those precedents were built.

In 1871 the case of Fulgham V. State, the Alabama Supreme court ruled as follows:

“Since then, however, learning, with its humanizing influences, has made great progress, and morals and religion have made some progress with it. Therefore, a rod which may be drawn through the wedding ring is not now deemed necessary to teach the wife her duty and subjection to the husband. The husband is therefore not justified or allowed by law to use such a weapon, or any other, for her moderate correction. The wife is not to be considered as the husband’s slave. And the privilege, ancient though it be, to beat her with a stick, to pull her hair, choke her, spit in her face or kick her about the floor, or to inflict upon her like indignities, is not now acknowledged by our law

Two key words stand out in the first sentence and those words are “humanizing” and “progress”. 

What does it mean to “humanize” someone? And to what “progress” were they referring? To understand these concepts, we have to compare and contrast the social classes of the post enlightenment age with those that came before it. 

When God created mankind, he ordained three core social classes and those were men, women and children.  After sin entered the world, he allowed for a fourth social class of slaves (both male and female) because of poverty and war. 

Humanists rejected these four social class structures and instead sought to bring about a new model of society that had only two social classes which we know today as “adults” and “children”.  The abolitionist humanists first targeted the slave class for elimination.  Then some female abolitionists broke off and organized the first womens rights conference in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

When they talked about “humanizing” people, they were talking about making women and slaves equal with free men.  In other words, they were seeking to eliminate the social classes of men, women and slaves and replace those classes with one new social class, that of a “human” or “adult” while leaving the child class intact.

This is why today if any adult is seen has having less rights than another adult, it is said that the person with less rights is being “dehumanized”. 

The ultimate goal of humanists of the late 19th century was to build an “internationalist” or what we call today “globalist” society.  No men, no women, no slaves, no rich, no poor, no Christians, no Muslims, no Jews, no Americans, no Mexicans, no British.

Just humans.    

And it is this march toward a one world society with no nations, no religions, no genders, no rich and no poor that humanists refer to as “progress”.  And this is why leftists today refer to themselves as “progressives”.   

Humanists knew that their master plan would take decades and perhaps more than a century to bring about.   And they knew they had to do it in small incremental pieces.  This is why if you notice in this ruling, the court still acknowledged that a wife had a duty to be in subjection to her husband. It would have been too much for American society to accept all at once that a husband could not use corporal punishment on his wife and that a wife did not have a duty to obey her husband.

The court was simply taking away a primary means of him enforcing that subjection, his ability to use corporal chastisement on his wife.  And by reducing the ability of husbands to enforce their rule over their wives, women were given more power.

In other words, taking away a husband’s right to use corporal discipline upon his wife was one of the first steps in dismantling patriarchy. 

The court falsely equated a man using moderate correction with a rod to him having a right “to pull her hair, choke her, spit in her face or kick her about the floor”.   This is what leftists do, they use extremes and abuses of authority, or this case chastisement, to get rid of all chastisement and in essence to get rid of an authority’s ability to chastise.

While Tennessee was the first state to outlaw “wife beating” in 1850, the vast majority of states did not do so until after this ruling in the 1870s.

But even though the courts and state legislatures had invaded the domestic forum by the late 19th century, local law enforcement officials rarely enforced these laws.  In other words, most local police did not feel right about invading the domestic forum even though state laws and court decisions would allow it. 

It would not be until more than a century after the first laws denying husbands’ rights to use corporal punishment on their wives, that a new “Domestic Violence” movement would arise in the early 1970s.  It was then that new domestic violence laws were passed and edicts came down from state and local governments forcing police to invade the domestic forum.

Conclusion

We have shown here that early 19th century jurisprudence respected ancient common laws giving husbands the right to use corporal punishment as part of domestic discipline with their wives. 

The courts showed great deference to the domestic forum, recognizing it was not right for civil authorities to intervene in domestic affairs, except under the gravest of circumstances, as husbands were to have supremacy in the affairs of their homes.

Later courts, following humanist philosophies, broke this sacred rule and launched a full-scale government invasion of the domestic forum with the attack on corporal punishment of wives being only one of the first battles in this invasion.

12 thoughts on “19th Century Judicial Precedents Regarding Domestic Discipline

  1. So what, then, is the solution for Western man? Wives still need to be chastised, perhaps now more than ever, and the power of the rod has been taken from husbands hands. Is it better not to marry? Perhaps it is better to do as the now defunct AT suggested and write up some type of false BDSM contract with ones wife, which in the current time is much more likely to be accepted by the leftist and humanistic courts (chastise wife = bad; woman derives pleasure from pain = good; go figure). As I said in your other post, I just don’t see anything more than a fringe of christian women getting on board with domestic discipline. They are trained to be feminists at their core from the day they are born. Not blue haired, screeching harpy feminists, but definitely “we are equals and only God can judge me” feminists. Could Sarah-esque, biblical womanhood make a comeback? Sure. In our lifetime? Likely not, I suppose, though its nice to see some seeds being planted by the women reaching out to you.

  2. Legalizing corporal punishment of your wife is not going to solve any problems. The wife has to be willing to submit and obey, it is her heart not her physical comfort that has to change. For those of us who accept corporal punishment as our husband’s right, our hearts are already in the right place, even if we are not perfect in our submission. A man in a marriage thinking he will spank his wife into submission will never succeed, even assuming she does not go to the police. If a man is dealing with a rebellious wife, corporal punishment may make her seem outwardly obedient, but make no mistake, if her heart is not in her submission, she is plotting and lying and you have accomplished nothing.

    BGR, I am so glad you are writing this series. I know of so many women who want this and have husbands who are hesitating because society has told them they are abusive ogres. They need to hear what you are saying.

  3. Snapper, it is only better not to marry if a man has the gift of celibacy. If he has the gift of sexual desire, then 1 Corinthians 7:9 states “…it is better to marry than to burn.” Men still can discipline their wives in a myriad of non physical ways. They can remove credit cards and access to bank accounts. They can remove their time, some wives treasure. That means no dates, and little of the husbands freetime is given. It means canceling purchases of new furniture or trips. It means she gets the bare essentials only. So while corporal discipline with a willing wife is what works best, there are other forms of discipline that God gives us as husbands.

  4. Yes, but why invite the trouble? Allow me to play devils advocate here.

    The definition of spousal abuse has come to include the other non-physical discipline you have listed. Taking away or limiting a wife’s financial privileges, ignoring them and providing “bare essentials only” can still land a man in trouble with the law and are most certainly applicable reasons for divorce according to the state. Wouldn’t a mans time be better used actually doing something productive rather than fighting a rebellious wife in the courts over his body, time and money? Even without the gift of celibacy, is it wisdom to make a poor investment in a wife if it is highly likely that she will be rebellious to the point of consuming all of ones time and resources? Its a question I think many men might be asking themselves right now, particularly with the temptation of the MGTOW movement who encourages men to eschew women altogether, and a good question for men who have invested time, effort and money into building a life prior to marriage and would be risking it all if a wayward wife goes feral.

  5. Snapper,

    Marriage is not just some business investment. It is a sacred part of our mission from God as men. 1 Corinthians 11:7 teaches us as men that God created us as males to image him with our lives and thereby bring him glory. Yes finding a career and doing that with all our might is a big part of imaging God as men. But it is not the only part. God also wants us to image him as husbands and fathers and we cannot do that without marriage. That is why God’s first command to both men and women in Genesis 1:28 was to “Be fruitful and multiply”, in other words, marry have sex and have children in that order.

    While a wife acting in rebellion against her husband is indeed blasphemous behavior (Titus 2:5), a husband fighting against her rebellion by exercising discipline against her brings honor and glory to God. Any time we as men fight against evil, whether in war, in politics, in society, in the church or yes even in our own marriages this brings glory to God. This fight is worth it.
    Now does that mean we have to pick the most rebellious wife and marry her? Of course not. We can and should do our homework and investigate a woman before we marry her to try and have the least chances of rebellion possible.

    But God does not give us the right as men to sit out marriage because it is a far riskier endevour for men today. A man who sits out marriage because it too risky is like a solider refusing to go to battle because it is too risky.

    That is why I firmly believe MGTOW is a cowardly philosophy. I have spoken out specifically against MGTOW in my previous article Why MGTOW is an Unbiblical philosophy.

  6. I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this one. It is good to marry, yes, but I don’t see that God would want men to make rash and foolish decisions. I know marriage is not simply a business investment but it IS an investment nonetheless.

    “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”

    I understand these verses are not about marriage, but they are about wisdom and understanding the costs of ones decisions. If no woman is found suitable for a wife should a man simply marry the closest and least rebellious? Marriage is not a requirement for salvation, and man has free will to do as he pleases. If a man finds no suitable bride and decides to remain celibate, even if it is difficult for him, then that is his decision and I see nothing in scripture that says God would discount him for that decision. It is not a matter of being mad at the system and giving up, as with MGTOW, but a matter of finding no suitable candidate and, yes, giving up. I believe God DOES give us the right to sit out of marriage because it is our personal decision to do so, as given to us by God via our free will. Otherwise why would Paul wish that the members of the church remain unmarried? Yes he did say that it was his own desire and not Gods desire, but he was speaking to say that he wished all would remain unmarried to serve the gospel, but that he understood that such a desire was not God’s desire. God wants us to marry, but it is an encouragement not a requirement.

    Searching for a bride in the modern environment is an arduous and time consuming process. It is of no surprise that some men simply stop looking, otherwise they are spending all of their time doing just that. If a christian man tells me he has tried to find a wife and has found none and has decided then to simply stop the pursuit I would encourage him to keep an open mind and continue to pray about it, but that he is in no danger spiritually from doing so, so long as he avoid fornication.

    I WANT christian men to marry and produce christian families, and though I encourage them to seek out the best possible woman they can I have no qualms with telling them that, if there are none to be found, then it might be best not to attach oneself to a woman with a high probability of initiating divorce if only to avoid the financial loss, not to mention the time lost and the possible damage to children should any be born. Sure none of us are assured that our wives will be with us until the end, but at least in prior years the odds were in our favor, now, not so much.

  7. Snapper,

    This is a quote from Teddy Roosevelt I have used often with MGTOWs from his speech entitled “On American Motherhood” given in 1905:

    “There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life. But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes these blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant,—why, such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who tho able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide.”

  8. Though I appreciate the quote it is not scriptural and is also taken from a time when the chances of a man finding a feminine woman, desiring to be a wife, desiring to be obedient to the word and being held in check by both scripture and a moral society, were much higher than they are in our current environment.

    We will just have to agree to disagree, but even so our disagreement is not so bad. As I said I don’t encourage men to give up on finding a wife, I very much DO encourage them to continue seeking, but a man who tells me he would rather not spend more time seeking something he cannot find I cannot fault.

  9. Snapper,

    First of all, I realize I may not change your view and we may just have to agree to disagree. But I am continuing here just a bit longer for the sake of my readers who are following this conversation.

    In regard to your statement:

    “I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this one. It is good to marry, yes, but I don’t see that God would want men to make rash and foolish decisions. I know marriage is not simply a business investment but it IS an investment nonetheless.”

    I am not for men making “rash” or “foolish” decisions about marriage. I do not teach that men need to marry as young as possible to avoid sexual temptation as I know some Christians teach. A man must be mature enough to lead a wife and children. He must be able to provide for them. And he must find a good woman whose faith and specifically believes about the roles of husbands and wives match is his own. Realistically speaking, most men won’t be mature enough and economically stable enough to even begin the search for a wife till they are 21 or 22 at least. And yes it may take many years to find that a woman who meets the right criteria. But while it may take many more years for some men, than for others for all these pieces to come together, I do not believe a man is allowed by God to give up his search for a bride if he does not have the gift of celibacy. And if look very carefully in the Scriptures, the gift of celibacy is to be used for a life of undistracted service to God. It is not meant for a man to avoid the stresses of marriage and children and just be able to live a nice stress free life.

    I agree with Teddy Roosevelt that “such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle”.

    There are a few other things you said that I want to address in separate comments.

  10. Snapper,

    In regard to your statement:

    “Marriage is not a requirement for salvation, and man has free will to do as he pleases. If a man finds no suitable bride and decides to remain celibate, even if it is difficult for him, then that is his decision and I see nothing in scripture that says God would discount him for that decision.”

    Again God cares very deeply about marriage. He never canceled his first command in Genesis 1:28 to mankind to “Be fruitful and multiply”. In fact he reinforced it in these passages:

    “Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.”
    Jeremiah 29:6 (KJV)

    In the Gospel of Matthew Christ says why God created male and female and commanded that man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife:

    “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?”
    Matthew 19:4-5 (KJV)

    Yes God gave us a free will, but he gave us a free will to follow his directives for our life. God men to image him, and marriage to help him complete that image. He meant for men and women to come together.
    God never withdrew his marriage mandate for men and women to seek marriage, but rather later on he made an exception to his mandate for those with the spiritual gift of celibacy, or those who were forced in to celibacy as slaves.

    I agree marriage is not a requirement for salvation anymore than performing any other works. The Bible says in Titus 3:5 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”. Amen and Amen. Neither marriage, nor following Biblical gender roles, nor being kind to people, nor giving to the poor or following any of these other commandments are required for us to be saved. The only thing we must do to be saved it listed below:

    “9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
    10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
    Romans 10:9-10 (KJV)

    However just because we are saved apart from following the law of God, does not mean we don’t have to follow the law of God. We are still require to follow God’s laws, but we do so out of love for what he has done for us, not to earn or keep our salvation.

    I agree that God would discount a man if he never found a suitable bride. But he certainly would hold him responsible if he never tried and did not have the gift of celibacy. I think this where we disagree about celibacy. I see the Scriptures presenting celibacy as gift, not a choice. Notice Paul’s wording:

    “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.”
    1 Corinthians 7:7 (KJV)

    That burning fire within a man for a woman is a gift from God(the gift of sexual desire) and celibacy, the lack of that burning fire for a woman is also a gift from God. Each man has his own proper gift.

    If a man can say he honestly does not burn for a woman and is just seeking to serve God with his life in celibate fashion. Great. God bless him. But he is doing so out fear or laziness regarding finding a wife, that I believe God will hold him accountable for his cowardice and laziness then as 1 Corinthians 3:15 states “he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire”.

  11. Snapper,

    Finally – yes we will have to agree to disagree on this statement you said “God wants us to marry, but it is an encouragement not a requirement”.

    I see in the Scriptures that God says a man “shall“, not “should“, leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. This is why he made male and female, to come together in marriage.

  12. Interesting comments. I have sympathy for MGTOW because marriage from a human perspective can be like purchasing a timeshare. The cost benefit calculation may be a disastrous investment and difficult to sever.

    But from a heavenly perspective marriage is a picture of the gospel, the covenant of God lived out on the stage of human history. A man chooses his bride, woos his chosen, is joined to her by God in covenant, loves her, and sacrifices for her good. Replace “a man” with Christ and “bride” with church and there it is the Gospel. Even in the situation where “for better or for worse” is the “for worse” variety, ie a marriage with a disrespectful and ungrateful wife, the husband’s continuing faithfulness and long suffering pictures that of Christ with us in our own ingratitude and contempt for His rule.

    Because marriage is a picture of the gospel, it is all the more a travesty that the church does not teach wives to love, respect, honor and obey their husband. Of course that would mean such a church love, honor and obey Christ. Frankly the disdain for the lordship of Christ is reflected in the contempt for the lordship of husbands. Part of lordship includes discipline, while no discipline is pleasant at the time, later on it brings forth a harvest of righteousness and peace. This is true for children, churches and wives (also husbands). When the correct authority, lovingly administers discipline they mimic the love of the Father, and true children of the father respond in love.

    We live in a wicked age where wives are not taught to honor their husbands, but to battle them, to stand against their authority and defend their autonomy and equality. Wives are taught that if they do not receive proper respect to divorce, take as much of the man possessions as legally possible and be admired for the strength to break covenant. The older women are teaching the younger women how to disobey their own husbands, elders are teaching wives how to disrespect their husbands and culture is teaching women that having a meek and quite spirit is slavery like something out of “The Handmaid’s tale” or if you are my age “apathetic Stepford Wives”.

    The answer is not to avoid marriage, that choice avoids dominion and the picture of the living gospel. But even as Christ says to the church, that He disciplines all whom He loves, so also DD needs to become part of the expectation of marriage with the full endorsement and backing from the church. Seriously, denominations, local church bodies, Focus on the Family, Family life etc. need to get on board and denounce the culture of emasculation and household decapitation. Husbands should be taught how and when to use the tool of DD to sanctify his wife and to avoid abusing the tool or abusing his wife. Wives ought to be taught that they should submit to discipline because it is ultimately from God for their own good. Reformations are difficult and men are tested, but the kingdom is worth any cost, only let us not shrink back in the day of battle.

    Once again BGR, thank you for your labors, IMO you are fighting in captured territory, where are slain many, and where the survivors have joined the camp of the enemy. God’s speed, always remember our Savior reigns!

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